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“I’m smart, I’m confident, and I’m totally comfortable on camera.”

Eddie murmurs his own patented mantra that he’d coined especially for today.

“I’m smart, I’m confident…” He struggles to perfect the line of his necktie in the bathroom mirror. “...and I’m…” Fuck.Fuck. Totally fucking comfortable on camera.” He tears the tie off and starts over.

One of his colleagues--one of the bros in Sales with whom he’s only on a “hi-bye” basis--emerges from one of the stalls and gives him a look as he rushes to wash his hands, shake them over the sink, and get the hell out of there.

Eddie couldn’t care less about being judged right now; he’s fucking terrified. He could swear, it’s like he’s twelve again and about to give a big presentation in social studies, in front of all those popular dickheads who’d call him clever names like sissy and homo, names that he’d now, at twenty-eight, gladly tattoo on his forehead. He’s earned those stripes, and he’s proud of them.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still totally petrified of going in front of a camera and talking (without a script!) about his job. He still doesn’t get why they chose him, at all. He just does social media, and he isn’t even the big idea-man in their marketing department; he’s more of a project manager, someone who takes other people’s big ideas and makes sure they’re executed perfectly, with backup plans and backup-backup plans just in case shit hits the fan. He doesn’t consider his job sexy, and he doesn’t think other people do, either. And he’s just not the type to be the company’s mouthpiece, for anything. He’s been there two years, and they’ve never used him for anything like this before. Why now?

The actual room where they’re shooting is far less intimidating: just a single small DSLR camera on a tripod, a couple of lights, and one other person, a tall, lanky, hipster-looking guy with dark eyes and an even darker mop of wild hair that can’t decide if it wants to be wavy or curly.

The guy turns to him immediately. “Hey, are you Edward Kaspbrak?”

“Yeah, Eddie’s fine,” Eddie exhales heavily, realizing his breathing has already gone a little shallow. “Richie, right?”

“That would be me. Nice to meet you.” Richie removes himself from fixing a gel on one of the lights to shake his hand. “I’m sorry to take you away from your work; this should only be about fifteen, twenty minutes, tops. You can have a seat right there.” Richie points to the only open chair in the conference room. The others are tucked in a corner together and inaccessible or occupied by wires and other equipment.

Eddie sits in the chair stiffly, hands trying to figure out what the hell to do in his lap. “I don’t know why they picked me to do this,” he blurts.

Without missing a beat, Richie says, “I have a feeling,” peering at Eddie on the camera’s mini-monitor, “it’s because you’re adorable and they knew you’d look great on camera.”

“Fuck off,” he dismisses, which prompts a surprised snicker from Richie. Eddie’s face scrunches up. “Sorry.”

Adorable. No one’s ever used that word to describe him before, not that he knows of, anyway. It makes him even more flustered.

He slips his hand inside the front pocket of his dress pants, extracting his baby blue inhaler and taking a puff.

“Wowza,” Richie smiles, adjusting the focus on the camera. “I haven’t seen one of those since I was a kid.”

Eddie breathes deeply, savoring the ability to do so. “I rarely have to use it. But I always carry it with me just in case.”

Richie’s expression goes soft. “You nervous?”

Eddie scoffs--but even he’s not buying it. “No.

“Do you mind if I…?” Richie gestures at the inhaler.

Eddie’s always had a thing about sharing, well, anything, especially things his mouth has been on (hardy-har-har)--it’s actually outright offended some of his previous boyfriends when he’s wiped the rim of coffee mugs or flipped straws around--but he finds himself wordlessly handing over the inhaler to this guy he just met five seconds ago.

Richie narrows his eyes and takes a hit, then sticks his tongue out, making a face. “You’d think they’d have found a way to make cool flavors at this point.”

“It’s medicine; not a fucking bong,” Eddie replies, snatching it back and pocketing it again. He doesn’t know why he’s being such a shit; Richie’s clearly just trying to put him at ease. Tall fucking order.

Richie just keeps smiling at him, looking totally unscathed and a little charmed, even. “Okay, so here’s how this is going to work. I have some really basic questions I’m going to ask you about the work you do here, and you’re going to answer them. But you’re not going to look at me; you’re going to look right into the camera.” To demonstrate, Richie scoots to the side and points at the lens: a cold, unfeeling black circle with a glass center.

It reminds Eddie of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“I know, it’s a little weird at first, but you’ll get used to it, I promise.”

Eddie doesn’t get used to it. He doesn’t even get past his introduction for the first three takes, flubbing his own job title. Richie is patient to a fault, reassuring Eddie that it happens all the time and to just breathe. When Eddie’s finally able to get through “Eddie Kaspbrak, Senior Social Media Manager,” he finds himself unable to keep his eyes on the lens, looking to Richie for validation or maybe just comfort as he answers his first question.

“Okay, let’s cut for a second.” Richie winks at him. “I know I’m pretty, but try to keep your eyes right here.” He points to the center of the lens again.

That stupid fucking camera lens. Eddie gives it another shot, but his eyes stray again--and on the next take, and the take after that.

“Okay, cut.”

Eddie exhales, rubbing at his thighs. “I’m sorry, this is so fucking unnatural for me.”

“You mean it’s unnatural talking to a machine like it’s an actual human being?” Richie pulls one of the chairs out from the table and clears it, placing it directly in front of the camera, about a yard from where Eddie’s sitting. “Weird.”

“I’m already eating into your next appointment, aren’t I?” Eddie glances at his watch.

“Who gives a shit?” Richie sits backwards on the chair, leaning his arms over the back. “They’re paying me by the hour; I’ve got all the time in the world.”

Eddie smiles, grateful to have the attention off of him for a moment, grateful that he can’t see the camera anymore. “So you’re a contractor?”

“Yep. I have to say, this is the best fucking gig I’ve ever had. They’re paying me a shit-ton of money to not do very much,” he stage whispers conspiratorially, “and you guys have more candy than Willy Wonka. I already love it here.”

“Well, if it weren’t for the pain in the ass you’re interviewing right now.”

“You’re not a pain in the ass.” Richie thinks for a moment. “What do you like most about working here? Besides the gummy bears.”

Answering--talking--just like this is easy. The words flow freely, and he can tell how captivated Richie is by what he’s saying, dark eyes attentive and mouth smiling when Eddie makes a funny side comment here and there.

When he’s run out of stuff to say, he finds Richie staring at him with that soft expression again.


“That was perfect. I’m going to turn the camera on and stand over there,” he points to a far corner of the room, out of Eddie’s visual field, “and I want you to talk just like that--but looking in the lens. Just pretend it’s me.”

Even though Eddie’s suddenly nauseous once he has to stare at that fucking thing again, it actually works. It’s like he’s had a rehearsal of sorts, and now that he has his guard down, he can just be a person.

When Richie calls cut about ten minutes later, Eddie turns to him. “Was that okay?”

“That was more than okay, Eddie Spaghetti.” Richie squeezes his shoulders and shakes him a little. “You killed it!”

Eddie feels proud even as he wrinkles his nose at the stupid nickname.